Biodiversity conservation promotes and protects human rights

Conserving biodiversity and protecting human rights belong together: In the Arctic, for example, traditional ways of life of the indigenous population are included in the design of protected areas. Photo: Sergey Uvarov/WWF Russia

In its global efforts to support climate action and biodiversity conservation, International Climate Initiative (IKI) also helps to protect human rights.

Human Rights Day is celebrated annually on 10 December. This date was chosen in to mark the day on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. While a declaration of rights to an intact nature and clean environment has yet to be adopted internationally, human rights do affect protections offered to biodiversity, nature and climate.

From an ecological perspective, the 30 Articles of the UDHR require us to extend these protections to the climate and environment as well, since the loss of ecosystem, species and genetic diversity threatens food security as well as air and water quality – and therefore our quality of life and the very existence of humankind. 

The progressive loss of diversity requires a socio-ecological transformation based on human rights towards sustainability and future viability: sustainability means achieving the 17 SDGs by 2030, while future viability means staying within the Earth’s ecological stress limits, the ‘nine planetary boundaries’.

Work of International Climate Initiative 

At IKI, conserving biodiversity has been an important part of its worldwide project work since its formation. Protecting human rights and the livelihoods of local populations is also a central focus of IKI’s activities. IKI Safeguards are also intended to ensure that project work does not have any adverse consequences for people, their living conditions or the natural world.

The following projects offer some insights into the relationships that exist between conserving biodiversity and safeguarding human rights.

Protecting biodiversity and human rights 

The departments of Chocó and Antioquia in north-western Colombia are rich in biodiversity, and home to many indigenous and Afro-Colombian populations. Yet pressure from the mining sector in particular is threatening national and regional protected areas here. IKI is therefore supporting the development of strategies for land use planning in indigenous territories. Project work aims to strengthen community production systems while highlighting the sustainable use of biodiversity – and by women in particular.

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Arctic ecosystems can make a major contribution to implementing the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) but are also severely threatened by climate change impacts. Since half of the Arctic lies within Russia, this country has a major role to play in the conservation of biological diversity. Working with local partners, this project is designing a network of protected areas that accounts for climate change impacts as well as the region’s industrial development. The approach also accommodates the traditional lifestyles of local and indigenous peoples. 

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Food security and safe drinking water

All over the world, IKI is supporting activities to raise awareness about the value of biodiversity. A global competition showcased 338 best-practice mainstreaming approaches to boost biodiversity in the agricultural sector. 

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Wetlands play an important role in mitigating climate change and conserving biodiversity while providing a source of fresh water for local communities. IKI is helping to improve the management of wetlands in its partner country India: project activities are protecting biodiversity in wetlands and their ecosystems services, strengthening climate resilience and improving living conditions for people living in catchment areas. 

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Background information 

Climate litigation

All over the world, young people are making their demands heard for a livable future in line with the ‘below 1.5 °C’ goal of the Paris Agreement. Five years after it was signed, only 2 of the 197 signatory states – including the European Union – are actually making real progress towards this ‘below 1.5 °C future’ (Morocco and Gambia: see the ClimateActionTracker web portal for details): because of this, increasing numbers of those affected are now turning to legal action. 

Climate litigation targets future viability (remaining within the Earth’s ecological boundaries) and biodiversity conservation as the basis for all key ecosystem services – including those important for humanity. 

Basic rights for Nature

Just as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights formulates and defines basic rights for all humans, international activists such as the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature are also demanding inalienable rights for Nature. Some countries have embedded the basic rights and respect afforded to Nature in their constitutions – such as Switzerland (1980) and Colombia (2010), for example. In 2017, the Whanganui River in New Zealand was given its own legal identity: these rights protect the course of the river and its ecology. 

In Germany, the legal status of conservation is defined by the Federal Nature Conservation Act. Setting out basic rights for Nature as part of a state constitution would go well beyond these provisions. 

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IKI Office
Zukunft – Umwelt – Gesellschaft (ZUG) gGmbH
Stresemannstraße 69-71

10963 Berlin


Further information

Read more about the topic of planetary boundaries:  

Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity

Guiding human development on a changing planet 

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